spitting 3yo

I have a 3yo who spits and makes the most obnoxious mouth noises. I've tried all kinds of consequences but nothing stops it! Help!

Totally normal developmental stage, so it won't do any good to try and teach/punish it out of a kid - you can't make them grow any faster. What you Can do is find appropriate and fun ways to enjoy this stage, rather than fighting it. Make up games - spit things at targets, spit for distance, get different colors of candy and gum and "paint" with spit. Obviously, do this in places that are either easy to clean or you don't mind At the same time, think of other things that use the same kinds of muscles - blow bubbles, blow up balloons, blow whirligigs, slurp things with straws, lick things off plates (make designs with... oh something fun.. ketchup! or sprinkles, or yogurt with food coloring in it - and Lick Them Off. Yum!).

Play with interesting mouth sounds - I don't like general mouth noises either, so I totally sympathize, but don't stop at "yuck" find Other things to do. Figure out how many tongue clicks and clucks you can make. Find some recordings of languages that use those sounds! They're super cool! Make animal noises, bird noises. Imitate sounds. Sing. Sing in a funny voice. Talk in a funny voice. Get a helium balloon and Really talk in a funny voice! Make sound effects. I don't just mean tell him or teach him - do it together. Have whole conversations that are goofy sounds. It's a Blast! and it turns a kind of annoying developmental state (totally with you there!) into a fun, light bonding experience you'll remember fondly, rather than with a shudder.


"you have to teach them"

I brought them food but their autism makes them hyper focus and they just don’t eat that’s the difference between asd kids and neuro typical kids

For Morgan, I looked for ways to make food super appealing and super convenient - lots of foods that could be eaten by hand without being gooey (stuff on hands! alert! alert! stuff on hands!) but also things that were eye catching and fun. We went through a few different stages of that. For awhile, it helped to wrap everything up like little presents. For awhile, it helped to decorate the heck out of everything - food coloring, sprinkles, shapes, party toothpicks and umbrellas, etc. For awhile it helped to tuck snacks into toys like a kind of puzzle, or use toys as plates and cups for the pure weirdness of it.

And sometimes it was just better if I sat there and reminded them to eat - that worked best if I offered a sweet first, since the sugar would get their appetite working, and they'd start to notice food.

Mo was like this about everything - not just one thing like video games. Everything they did was with this amazing focus for hours on end. It's somewhat developmental in the sense that as kids move into the tween and teen years it dissipates a bit, but my partner and I are divergent, too, and before we had kids we could both forget to eat and take care of other needs if we were wrapped up in a project. It's not something you teach away! That's the biggest thing to remember about neurodivergent kids, you Won't "teach them better". Not shouldn't, won't. Can't. Learning works just the same for us as for nts - it's just as dependent on interest and perception and personality and temperament and mood. It's our perceptual fields that are the most different from nts.

I really want to affirm that it's Hard for neurotypicals to parent divergent kids, because of gaps in your own wiring. You're wired to look for specific social cues first and to use those cues as a kind of emotional feedback. So when divergent kids don't produce those cues as readily, it makes it harder to see what's going on with them, but it also makes it harder for you to feel connected and loved, to feel like your kids want to connect with and love you - so you have less of an incentive to learn better. It's not y'all's fault, like I said, it's a wiring gap. Divergent parents don't have that same gap, so it's easier to look past the absence of social performance and see the non-performative cues that telegraph a kid's feelings. But just like divergent folks learn to perform, typical folks can totally learn to look past performance. That's the great thing about human nature - we're plastic and adaptable! We learn and grow for the sake of people we love.

"teaching" and autism

This is from an unschooling group where a parent was insisting that kids on the spectrum need to be taught even basic things, and that this makes them different from "normal" kids. I want to address some of the "we had to teach" things, because they're good examples of how the expectations of the neurotypical world can get in the way of seeing what's going on with neurodivergent kids.

I'm not entirely sure what "teach her to chew" means, but given that she was 5, she had to be eating somehow by then, and chewing is a mechanical variation on the sucking motion, so I suspect it means "chew with her mouth closed". And 5's a bit young to my thinking. Even typical kids don't really have much of a "theory of mind" at that age, but since they're wired to attend to social performance, they're more likely to mimic socially appropriate performative behavior. Chewing with one's mouth closed is Performative behavior. If that seems anything other than obvious (at least once it's pointed out) then see that as an indication that you're wired on the social performance end of the typical-divergent spectrum. Probably, she'd have learned more naturally around age 8, when the normal developmental shift into the tween years increases a child's awareness of "the other" - although it's entirely possible someone would still have needed to say something like "you know, other people don't like to see mouth goop - you know how you don't like goop on your hands? it's that kind of thing." A 5yo won't understand that - even a nt 5yo! What a typical 5yo will get is "this is how to perform eating". 

We had to teach her how to speak by rote memorization of responses to certain phrases and then build off of that (at 5 years old)

If you take "teach" out of the equation, what does this look like? It actually looks like a pretty common experience for divergent kids, which is that they pick up on whole phrases and "scripts" and learn those first - much the way, if you were moving to a place where people spoke a different language, you'd learn common phrases and responses first. "How do you do?" and "Excuse me, where is the toilet?" In a way, it's a more "adult" learning style - but it's only possible because the person in question has already internalized a lot of the rules and patterns of language. It's not at all like teaching a parrot to talk.

But it's not so much Different from the way neurotypical children learn as it is more overt. One of the current fields of study is how much normal, day-to-day human behavior is scripted or even "robotic" - people run on autopilot. Neurodivergent people are more aware of the scripts and subroutines. I certainly am - even before these ideas were in common parlance I thought of myself as having a set of internal characters I could move to "center stage" and have them run their lines for my "audience". It's interesting to note that a lot of performers are neurodivergent - makes good sense, if you think about it: they're more aware of the extent to which daily interactions are performative. 

Blank face, no words, nothing.

It's called "resting face". And it throws neurotypicals into an amazing amount of confusion and distress - it's really a fantastic window on the gaps in their wiring system because Everyone has a "resting face", but when a person expects a socially performative face and sees a resting face, they have a negative emotional response. So we have the expression "resting bitch face" to describe women who wear their resting face in public. And when people default to a resting face while... watching tv in particular, it's said they look like a zombie. Producing resting face when other people expect emotional performance is called "flat affect" and considered a symptom of a number of disorders... many of which, it turns out, may be neurodivergent responses to... well, to being bullied to "act right" our whole lives.

A whole lot of parent-child miscommunication ends up being about resting face or failure to perform the "right" other face. This is something a lot of divergent folks are distinctly aware of - hands up anyone who's ever thought "do I have the right face on?" You're aware of the space between your internal state and outward performance. And while neurodivergent folks tend to be more intrinsically aware of that space, it's certainly something nts can learn - it's a big component to things like meditation, mindfulness practice, physical disciplines like yoga and tai chi, and even acting!

As a parent, any time you find yourself upset that your child isn't showing respect, or courtesy, or appreciation, or attention, it can be helpful to pause and remember that all these things are Performative. And that sometimes it's harder to perform than others.

And I can't emphasize enough that, even though I'm drawing a line between neurodivergence and typicality, this is stuff that can apply to any kid and any parent - even to adult-adult relationships. Conventional parenting/education is all about demanding a certain kind of performance from children - a performance that's as much about power dynamics as anything else. People in power get to have resting face. Lower status people are expected to put on a pleasant expression, to show that they're listening, to appear interested and attentive. So this stuff crosses a lot of lines into various 'isms - sexism and racism and classism - but we start learning it as children. Age 2 is around when adults start reacting to a failure to perform on the part of children. It's part of the "terrible twos" - kids "demanding" things instead of "asking nicely" is a common performance fail, along with kids saying "no" rather than cheerfully acquiescing. Kids who don't start to work out the performance details quickly get categorized as "bad" or "difficult" or in need of teaching. All kids benefit from adults looking past their performance failures and seeing little people struggling to deal with a complex and often overwhelmingly big world.